Gabriel’s smile was quizzical as he looked down at Bella, once again fascinated by how beautiful she was. How tiny and curvaceous. How responsive…
He felt his body stir, his thighs hardening, as he recalled just how responsive Bella had been the previous evening and once again during the night. How his own response had been deepened, intensified, to match hers.
He reached out to smooth the fringe of dark hair from her brow, his gaze holding hers as he bent to kiss her, slowly, his expression regretful when he finally raised his head. ‘I really do have to go now, Bella, or I am going to be late getting to Silverstone,’ he murmured huskily. ‘But I will call you later, okay?’
‘Okay,’ she whispered.
Gabriel stood up reluctantly, as aware of the minutes ticking by as he was of Bella’s nakedness beneath the sheet, and knowing he had to remove himself from the temptation she represented. ‘My housekeeper will call a taxi for you when you are ready to leave.’ He spoke abruptly as he fought the urge he had to say to hell with the practice session and remain here in bed with Bella instead. ‘As I cannot drive you home myself I have left you some money on the dressing-table to pay for the taxi,’ he added lightly, remembering that Bella had only recently ceased being a student.
She frowned slightly. ‘That won’t be necessary.’
‘Bella…?’ Gabriel lowered his own brows darkly as he could read none of her thoughts in those violet-coloured eyes.
‘It’s fine, Gabriel.’ Bella forced a lightness to her tone that was completely contradicted by the heaviness that had settled in her chest at the suddenness of Gabriel’s departure.
‘I will call you later, Bella,’he repeated firmly. Gabriel bent once again to kiss her on the lips before turning to leave, pausing at the door to turn and add, ‘Take your time showering—there is no hurry for you to leave.’
Five years later…
‘AS PARTIES go this one is pretty amazi—I don’t believe it!’ Claudia gasped incredulously.
‘What don’t you believe?’Bella prompted indulgently, her sister having exclaimed over one wonder or another since the family’s arrival in San Francisco two days ago.
Although Bella had to admit that the view of the San Francisco evening skyline from this private function room at the top of one of its most prestigious hotels was pretty spectacular. She could even see the Golden Gate Bridge lit up in all its splendour.
‘Wow! I mean—wow!’ Claudia wasn’t looking out of the window but across the crowded room where the private party, to introduce the two families of their cousin Brian and his American fiancée Dahlia Fabrizzi, was taking place on the eve of their wedding. ‘But it can’t really be him, can it?’ she queried as she frowned. ‘Of course Aunt Gloria has been dropping huge hints the last few days about Dahlia’s mother being well connected, but, still, I can’t believe—’
‘Claudia, will you for goodness’ sake stop waffling into your champagne and just—?’ Bella broke off abruptly as she turned to see who was holding her sister so enrapt, and instantly recognised the ‘him’ Claudia had to be referring to.
Bella hadn’t seen him for five years. Five years! And yet she had no trouble whatsoever in recognising Gabriel Danti!
No! Claudia was right; it couldn’t possibly be him, Bella assured herself. Not here, of all places. It had to be an illusion.
Or perhaps just a waking nightmare!
‘It is him!’Claudia exclaimed excitedly as she clutched Bella’s arm. ‘It’s Gabriel Danti, Bella! Can you believe it?’
No, Bella couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want to believe it!
Maybe it wasn’t him, just someone who looked a lot like him?
The height was the same, but the dark hair was much shorter than Bella remembered. The eyes, although dark, were cold and aloof despite the smile that curved those chiselled lips as he was introduced to several other guests. The cleft in the chin was also the same, but this man had a scar running from beneath his left eye to his jaw to mar the harsh, sculptured beauty of his face.
Bella remembered that Gabriel Danti had been photographed sporting a long scar down the left side of his face when he was discharged from hospital three months after the horrendous crash that had put an end to his own racing career and killed two of his fellow drivers.
Months after his accident, Gabriel Danti had returned to Italy on the family owned jet, had been photographed as he left the hospital, and then again as he entered the plane, but had rarely been seen in public since. His racing career over, he had turned his concentration on the Danti wineries and seemingly retired from the playboy lifestyle he had once so enjoyed.
‘Do you remember those posters of him I had stuck all over my bedroom walls when I was younger?’ Claudia laughed.
Of course Bella remembered those posters—they had given her the shivers for months following that night Bella had spent with him, her relief immense once Claudia took them down and replaced them with posters of one of the bad-boy actors of Hollywood.
‘He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?’ Claudia sighed dreamily.
‘Lovely,’ Bella answered insincerely, watching the man standing across the crowded room now talking to her uncle Simon.
He was several inches taller than her uncle, and had to bend slightly in order to hear the older man’s conversation. He looked dark and mesmerising, his body lithe and obviously fit in the black evening suit and snowy white shirt with a black bow tie.
Could it really be Gabriel?
From the way his mere presence had ensnared the attention of all the female guests at the party Bella could well believe it was him. She just didn’t want it to be!
‘His hair’s shorter, of course—Oh, look, he favours his left leg…’ Claudia sympathised as their cousin Brian moved with the man to introduce him to several members of his own family who had made the trip over for the wedding tomorrow.
‘His legs were badly crushed in the accident five years ago, remember,’ Bella murmured with a frown.
‘You would have thought that all the Danti millions could have fixed that,’ her sister mused. ‘You know, Bella,’ she added slowly, ‘he reminds me of someone…’
‘Probably Gabriel Danti!’ Bella said sharply as she finally came out of the dazed stupor that had held her firmly in its grip, linking her arm with her sister’s in order to turn Claudia in the direction of the bar. ‘Let’s go and get some more champagne.’
‘Aren’t you in the least intrigued to know if it is him?’ Claudia looked at her teasingly. She was of a similar height to Bella, but her hair was a short, wispy cap of ebony, the blue of her figure-hugging knee-length gown a perfect match in colour for her eyes.
‘Not in the least,’ Bella dismissed firmly, deliberately going to the farthest end of the bar away from the crowd of people where the man who looked like Gabriel Danti was now the centre of attention, several other people having drifted over to join the group, obviously as intrigued as Claudia.
Claudia gave a husky chuckle of affection as they stood at the bar waiting for their champagne glasses to be refilled. ‘My big sister, the man hater!’
Bella raised dark brows. ‘I don’t hate all men—just those that have gone through puberty!’
‘Exactly.’ Claudia grinned, her face arrestingly pretty rather than classically beautiful. ‘I wonder if I should go over and say hello to Brian and see if he can introduce me to—No, wait a minute…’